19 Best Sights in Oude Stad and Het Eilandje, Antwerp and the Northeast

De Koninck Brewery

South of the Center Fodor's choice

The De Koninck Brewery is almost as old as the city of Antwerp itself and still resides on the site of the inn from which it was converted back in 1833. Back then, De Plaisante Hof (or The Merry Garden) lay in plain view of Antwerp's notorious hanging fields; today its view of King Albert Park is mercifully less shocking. Visitors can now take ambling tours inside the brew hall that include a wealth of interactive video screens and gizmos, as well as a couple of beers to taste. The brewery has also expanded to include a number of local artisanal food and drink producers and a meat-heavy gourmet restaurant, The Butcher's Son, that already boasts a Michelin star. Classes range from beer cookery to sessions on how to pair beers and cheese (or chocolate).

De Ruien (Underground Antwerp)

Oude Stad Fodor's choice

What seems like a million miles from the Rubens paintings and shops of the Meir is actually just a few meters below street level. Beneath Antwerp lie 8 km (5 miles) of sewers, streams, and tunnels that date from the 16th century. In 1885 they disappeared from view when the city brought in covered drains, but their story continued. During WWI and WWII, these tunnels became a way to smuggle goods into the city and people out. Suit up (special protective suits are supplied) and wander old vaults, canals, bridges, and medieval fortifications on guided tours (day and night), with boats for the deeper sections; or simply explore by yourself with a tablet and map. Rats and some rather big spiders also make these tunnels their home, so the squeamish should beware. Tours will also be called off in the event of heavy rain---this makes parts of the tunnels unnavigable.

Museum aan de Stroom

Het Eilandje Fodor's choice

This ambitious museum, in a striking red sandstone and glass building next to Antwerp's old dock area, aims to place Antwerp's history into a world context. Five floors of exhibits explore themes such as trade and shipping, men and gods, here and elsewhere, and prestige and symbols, showcasing everything from pre-Columbian artifacts to gas masks from World War II. It's all capped off with a panoramic rooftop view (free to visit) and a Michelin three-star restaurant, ‘t Zilte. Note that most of the museum's documentation is not in English; for a translation, use your smartphone to read the QR codes placed next to many exhibits, or pick up an information booklet at the entrance to each room.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal

Oude Stad Fodor's choice

A miracle of soaring Gothic lightness, the Cathedral of Our Lady contains some of Rubens's greatest paintings and is topped by a 404-foot-high north spire. The monument is the work of a succession of remarkable architects, including Peter Appelmans, Herman and Domien de Waghemakere. The tower holds a 49-bell carillon played at various times throughout the year. The cathedral's art treasures were twice vandalized, and many were either sold at auction or carried off to Paris—though some have been returned. The cathedral nevertheless has an outstanding collection of 17th-century religious art, including four Rubens altarpieces.

Plantin-Moretus Museum/Prentenkabinet

Oude Stad Fodor's choice

For three centuries, beginning in 1555, this UNESCO-listed building was the home and printing plant of an extraordinary publishing dynasty; the family printed innumerable bibles, breviaries, and missals. Christophe Plantin's greatest technical achievement was the Biblia Regia (in Room 16), eight large volumes containing the Bible in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, and Aramaic, complete with notes, glossaries, and grammars.

De Groote Witte Arend

Oude Stad

De Groote Witte Arend, in a secret courtyard near the Jordaens house, is in a former convent. The background music tends to be Vivaldi or Telemann, the atmosphere is genteel without being snobbish, and there's a good selection of draft beers and tasty sandwiches.

Reyndersstraat 18, Antwerp, 2000, Belgium
03-233–5033
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Closed Mon., 11.30–midnight Tue.–Sun

DIVA

Oude Stad

The city's diamond trading and smithing past gets a gloriously theatrical presentation in this interactive museum. Visitors are guided through six rooms by their audio "butler" Jerome, gawking at some rampant abuses of wealth, from a diamond-encrusted gold tennis racket to a king's ransom of jewels, silverware, and chinoiserie. Ensconced in all this glitz, however, is a serious history lesson in how a city was built on its ability to turn rough stones into polished jewels, as well as the fads that accompanied the industry, such as the "Egyptmania," fanned by Napoléon's campaigns in the late 18th century, or Japan's opening up to the West in the mid-1800s, enabling its aesthetic to influence everything from Art Nouveau to a sudden bourgeois craze for kimonos.

Grote Markt

Oude Stad

The heart of the Oude Stad is dominated by a huge fountain splashing water onto the paving stones. St. George is perched on top of a 16th-century guild house at Grote Markt 5 about to fight a dragon. The lopsided square is lined on two sides by guild houses and on the third by the Renaissance Stadhuis. Antwerp's town hall was built in the 1560s during the city's Golden Age, when Paris and Antwerp were the only European cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. In its facade, the fanciful fretwork of the late-Gothic style has given way to the discipline and order of the Renaissance. 

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Havenhuis

Het Eilandje

One relatively recent addition to the dynamic Antwerp skyline is the Port House, home of Antwerp's Port Authority. Located at the northern end of Het Eilandje, the shiny diamond-shape lozenge on stilts actually rests on top of a beautifully restored old fire station. It was designed by renowned architect Dame Zaha Hadid, and completed shortly before her death in 2016. You can only visit the neo-futurist construction by arranging a group tour (Tuesday, Thursday, and the first Saturday of each month only), which costs a hefty €150 per group, but its stunning exterior appearance has made it a noteworthy showstopper even if you don't go in.

Het Elfde Gebod

Oude Stad

This place has gobs of atmosphere; it's crammed with more than 400 plaster saints and angels salvaged from old churches. Het Kathedraalcafé is tucked into a tiny street between the Grote Markt and the cathedral and serves traditional, hearty Vlaamse fare with a large selection of Trappist beers. It also has a pleasant terrace.

Het Steen

Oude Stad

The Steen is more than 1,000 years old. A 9th-century waterfront fortress, it was built to protect the western frontier of the Holy Roman Empire. It was partially rebuilt 700 years later by Emperor Charles V. You can distinguish the darker, medieval masonry extending midway up the walls from the lighter upper level of 16th-century work. The only survivor of the original waterfront, the Steen was used as a prison for centuries. Today it houses Antwerp's visitor information center, as well as The Antwerp Story, a permanent exhibition that serves as a good introduction for anyone new to the city. Through a series of rooms, interactive multimedia displays give you an overview of Antwerp's people, industry, monuments, and its museums. You can also head up to the roof terrace for a panoramic view.

Mode Museum (MoMu)

Oude Stad

To get up to speed on the latest clothing designers, head to MoMu for a fashion crash course. Inside the early-20th-century building you’ll find comprehensive exhibits, some highlighting the avant-garde work of contemporary Flemish designers. Rotating exhibits also make the most of the museum’s collections of clothing, accessories, and textiles dating back to the 18th century; you can ponder the workmanship of delicate antique lace alongside deconstructed blouses from the late 1990s.

Nationalestraat 28, Antwerp, 2000, Belgium
03-470–2770
Sight Details
Rate Includes: €12, Closed Mon.

Red Star Line Museum

Het Eilandje

An exceptionally thoughtful museum for our times, the Red Star Line operated the old steamers that would cross to the New World from Antwerp, carrying some 2 million passengers to new lives between 1873 and 1934. The museum follows the stories of the emigrants who made that journey, leaving the familiar behind for a life of uncertainty, putting a human face on immigration that is sorely needed these days.

Sint Anna's Tunnel (Underpass)

Oude Stad
In 1874, the city set about connecting the left and right banks of the Scheldt. The importance of shipping meant a bridge just wasn't feasible at the time, so nearly 60 years later they eventually decided to dig down instead. The tunnel's rare wooden escalator and almost hypnotic tiling make it a reason to enter in itself, though it's worth spending some time exploring Linkroever, across the water. A trail leads from the exit on the left bank up to a petite stretch of beach known as Sint-Annastrand that looks out over the Scheldt—a bizarre splash of nature amid the docks.
Sint-Annatunnel, Antwerp, 2000, Belgium
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free

Sint-Andrieskerk

Oude Stad

This late-Gothic church dedicated to St. Andrew dates from 1514 but reflects substantial Baroque influences from its extension during the 18th century. The church is notable for the magnificence of its Baroque high altar, stained-glass windows, and columns. Its most striking feature is the pulpit depicting Peter and his brother Andrew, created by Jan-Baptist Van Hoof and Jan-Frans Van Geel in 1821. The church is closed to visitors during services.

Sint-Carolus Borromeuskerk

Oude Stad

Like so much of Antwerp, the Jesuit St. Charles Borromeo Church bears the imprint of Rubens. The front and tower are generally attributed to him, and his hand can certainly be seen in the clustered cherubim above the entrance. The church’s facade suggests a richly decorated high altar, inviting the observer inside. The interior was once magnificent, but most of Rubens’s frescoes were destroyed by fire, and other works were carted off to Vienna when the Austrians banned the Jesuits in the 18th century. The square is one of the most attractive in Antwerp, flanked by the harmonious Renaissance buildings of the Jesuit convent, now occupied by the City Library.

Hendrik Conscienceplein 12, Antwerp, 2000, Belgium
03-231–3751
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Sun. (unless attending services)

Sint-Pauluskerk

Oude Stad

The late-Gothic St. Paul's Church, built 1530–71, is a repository of more than 50 outstanding paintings, including a series known as the 15 mysteries of the Rosary by Antwerp's finest painters of the time. There are three by Rubens, including a visceral depiction of Jesus's flagellation, as well as early works by Jordaens and Van Dyck. The church is further enriched by more than 200 17th- and 18th-century sculptures, including the 10 Baroque confessionals attributed to Peeter Verbruggen the Elder. A Baroque altar completed in 1639 towers over the more somber Gothic nave. Sint-Pauluskerk was restored in 1968 after damage from a major fire.

Vlaeykensgang

Oude Stad

This quiet cobblestone lane in the center of Antwerp seems untouched by time. The mood and style of the 16th century are perfectly preserved here. There is no better time to linger than on a Monday night when the carillon concert is pealing from the cathedral. The alley ends in Pelgrimsstraat, where there is a great view of the cathedral spire.

Vlaeykensgang, Antwerp, 2000, Belgium
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free

Vleeshuis

Oude Stad

The Gothic butcher's guild is Antwerp's oldest remaining public building and was once the only place in the city where meat could be sold. Over the centuries it has morphed from a guild hall into a refined music museum, focusing on 600 years of the musical life of the city.